"Excess ain't rebellion," as the band Cake nicely put it. But, then again, sometimes excess is its own reward. Overkill is turned into a culinary aesthetic at Chef's Dog House in Newington. And it works. In this age of $12 burgers, when even a run-of-the-mill cheeseburger tends to cost you $8, Chef's Dog House offers the best of both worlds, with over-the-top creations like the Godzilla Burger (double cheese burger, with pepper-jack, avocado and frizzled potatoes), none of which are more than $7. (Fries are extra.)
Chef's Dog House only serves a few things — hot dogs and hamburgers, plus some salads and soups, a few sandwiches and breakfast — but the menu is enormous. And the little restaurant also proudly displays a condiment bar, with a spread of over 30 mayos, mustards, relishes, and hot sauces that rivals any I've seen. (The condiment bar is obviously as important to them as the decor.)
One doesn't always think of "chefs" and "hot dogs" in the same thought. The hot dog is the most humble of sausages after all, except for maybe the Slim Jim. But 21st century food culture loves to elevate the rustic. And Newington seems to be a hot bed of that sort of thing, with Gold Burger, another very adventurous and easy to love boutique burger place in town. The proximity of the chow-friendly Berlin Turnpike exerts its own effect on the dining scene.
Chef's Dog House could be any working-man's hot dog hut popular with the landscapers and delivery drivers looking to grab a quick, filling and affordable lunch, where you order at the counter and take your seat while they sling together your dog or burger. It's better than that though. That menu is a tip-off. When you spot something like the Bacon Nacho Burger ($5.75) — a burger topped with bacon, nacho cheese and crispy jalapenos — you know you've found a place that revels in piling it on. A similarly maximalist creation in the frankfurter department is the Prairie Dog ($3.85) — a hot dog wrapped in bacon, topped with onion dip and frizzled potatoes.
My lunch was a sprawling, heart-stopping affair, in the best way. A Big Tex burger was like a nested doll, only with hidden layers of meats, fried stuff and sauces. The burger was topped with bacon, cheddar, an onion ring, chili (with beans) and crispy fried jalapeno pepper slices, as well as shredded lettuce and a tomato slice. This was the kind of burger that can cause you to strain your jaw when you're trying to wrap your mouth around the thing. Luckily it's served on a grilled roll-like bun, so it can sort of withstand all the add-ons. But even so, I found myself spilling components of my lunch into the paper tray. It required a fork for clean-up and completion. This was a salty, tangy and slightly spicy creation. The Big Tex is a burger worth driving out of your way for.
Similarly massive and messy was the Pastrami and Swiss dog ($4.59), which is an all-beef dog served on a grilled New England style roll and heaped with salty strips of pastrami topped with melted cheese. Some spicy mustard was all I added to mine, but some kraut would have gone nicely too. An order of onion rings was almost more than I could plow through, but too much is just enough at Chef's Dog House. (There are potato wedge fries, sweet potato fries, curly fries, chips, chili cheese fries and a few other sides.)
The only thing missing was a nice thick chocolate shake. (They don't do ice cream at Chef's Dog House.) But you might find yourself without much room for dessert after you chow down a dog or a burger there. Pace yourself.
Chef's Dog House
337 Willard Ave., Newington, (860) 667-3700, chefsdoghouse.com, closed Sundays